John Robertson (1826 - 1904) - A Scottish emigree in Geelong

From 1834 - Isabella Burns Croll

Isabella Burns Croll (26 December 1834, bap 11 January 1835 (Ref 282 170/243) - 15 May 1913, Geelong)) was born in Dundee, Scotland to William Croll (1811 - 1861) and Jean (later Jane) Hutcheson (1811 - 8 January 1858, Geelong, Australia) who married on 14 December 1832 in Dundee, Scotland (Ref 282 220/97). William Croll, his wife and three children (Isabella, George, Andrew) travelled to Victoria, Australia, as assisted or bounty passengers on board the William Nicholl which left Leith, Scotland, on 4 September 1841, arriving in Melbourne on 9 February 1842. After a short stay in Melbourne (where two more children were born), the family moved to Geelong by 1849 (and another two children were born).

From 1848 - John Robertson leaves for Australia

John Robertson was the eldest son of Colin and Christian Robertson who had moved from the Killin area by around 1826 and settled in the farming area between Stirling and Doune, known as Drumvaich.

It is not known why he decided to leave but on 9 November 1848 John Robertson, a 'wheelwright', left London for Australia on the relatively new 635 ton ship the Francis Ridley, arriving at Port Philip (Melbourne) on 12 February 1849. He ended up at Geelong, Victoria. His level of education was not known but was remembered by family as being 'a practical, hardworking gentleman with Christian ideals'. The colony of Victoria was still very young in 1849; John Batman had concluded agreements with the Aboriginal people at Melbourne and Indented Head only 14 years before in 1835 to acquire the surrounding land. Geelong must have been a very small hamlet when John Robertson arrived.

John had four younger brothers, Archibald, Robert, Colin and James. After the death of Colin in 1859, Robert left with his mother and joined his older brother John in Geelong. See this page for more information about Robert's life in Australia and New Zealand. It is not known what became of the other three brothers, they are not mentioned in correspondence that has survived between Colin senior and John.

1852 - John Robertson marries Isabella Croll

Quite possibly through the nascent United Presbyterian Church, the 26 year old John Robertson met the 17 year old Isabella Burns Croll. They married on 25 November 1852 in Geelong (Vic BDM 23773). Family history recalls that Isabella's father William may have helped John financially with his housing projects and may have helped set him up as proprietor of sawmills in Geelong.

By the end of 1851, the church was gaining in strength but had no property or hall; often the minister would rent the Masonic Hall. Just as the numbers were growing, gold was discovered at Ballarat and the church found itself without most of the men and boys. After a couple of years, the men working the gold fields returned and, with their financial support, a site was secured in McKillop Street. Additional funds were raised and a foundation stone laid on 3 October 1853. Building work began. John's father-in-law William Croll was an elder.

In 1852 John Robertson had established a business, the 'Victoria Saw Mills', located at LaTrobe Terrace, Ashby. The business was renamed two years later, in 1858, to 'John Robertson, Saw Mills, Victoria Terrace West'. (See the link for further information about the business)

Some time before the end of 1854, John sent his elderly father 10 pounds. His father thanked him in his reply letter of 1854 (full text here), and gave him advice about building churches 'with weak walls'. This is a reference to the collapse of the church under construction. From the Church's history: 'But just when the walls were ready for the roof a terrific gale razed them to the ground, and it became a total wreck'.

John Roberton built a house in 1854.

John and Isabella had eleven children:

In 1857, John Robertson was elected to Session and was to give 42 years of devoted service to his Church.

Note: The Geelong Commercial Directory and Almanac listed two other individuals with the name 'J Robertson'. There were:

Neither of these two individuals is believed to be related to John.

1859 - Death of Colin Robertson in Scotland

John's father Colin Robertson died in Doune on 13 June 1859 and was buried in at Scots Church, Doune, Scotland. (Note, Colin's gravestone is no longer identifiable in the gravestones of that church, which was sold sometime in 2012 to a private buyer; the Scots Church now occupies a small hall further north along the main street of Doune). Colin's death certificate notes that he was a 74 year old 'Dyke Builder'.

1860 - Robert and Christian Robertson migrate to Australia

Following the death of Colin, his son Robert Robertson may have suggested to his mother Christian Robertson, that they should migrate to Australia to be with Robert's older brother John. They travelled south to Liverpool and departed as unassisted passengers on board the British Trident on 9 January 1860, arriving in Melbourne, Australia, on 5 April 1860. The emigration to Australia and Colin's letter above seems to indicate that there was no-one left of the family remaining in Scotland.

1861 - Robert and John Robertson recorded in the Geelong directories

By 1861 John Robertson was living and working in Little Ryrie Street, to the east of Belfast Chapel. A Mr T Ingles lived to the east of him, then followed the City Saw Mills (owned by John Robertson), Wood Bros and Mr C Port, the latter two both timber merchants. Then came the Good Woman Hotel, which was probably at the time on the corner of Geringhap Street. It appears likely that John Robertson lived in the same house until his death in 1904.

John's brother, Robert Robertson is also recorded living in Corio Street Geelong in the 1861 directory.

1863 and 1865 - Death of infant children

John and Isabella Robertson's infant son, John Burns Robertson, died in 1863. Two years later, their infant daughter Ann Robertson, born after John died, also died.

1870 - Church issues

In 1870, the question of union between the United Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in Victoria was brought before the few Churches (of which Geelong was one) remaining outside the Union. Their reason was their refusal to accept any State aid, or all the State any control in Church affairs. But, when the Victorian Legislature repealed the Act granting State aid to Ministers, the way became clear for the few churches left to join the Union. The United Presbyterian Church joined the Union in October 1870. Thereafter, it was known as the Ryrie Street Presbyterian Church'. This church was not far from the Aberdeen Street Baptist Church which would be connected with the Robertson and related families also.

1873 - Death of Christian/Christine Robertson

Christine Robertson died in Geelong on 12 May 1873.

1874 - Death of Amy Roberston

Amy Isabella Robertson (born 1873) died on 4 March 1874.

1874 - 1894: Relative stability and marriages

The period from 1874 to 1894 was probably a relatively stable period for the family.

Christina Robertson (born 1860) married Hay Duncan (probably 1864, Dundee (Ref 282/2 733) - 1915 (Vic BDM Ref 8427)) on 18 June 1884. The marriage notice in the Geelong Advertiser of 25 June 1884 states that they married at the 'residence of the bride's parents, Little Ryrie Street, by the Rev A Davidson. It was noted that Hay was 'late of Dundee, Scotland'. They had three children as listed below. Hay was a 'contractor' when their son Herbert was born in 1898.

William Croll Robertson (born 1859), who worked in his father's business, married Susannah (Susie) Templeton in 1886 (Vic BDM Ref 3066). It is not believed they had any children.

Robert Robertson (born 1866) married Agnes Francis Lillie ('Lillie') Cranstoun (1869 (Vic BDM Ref 15734 - 4 October 1936 (Vic BDM Ref 19831, and gravestone) at the residence of Agnes' parents in February 1892. They were married by the Rev A Davidson, assisted by Rev Colin Robertson (brother of the bridegroom).' (Source: Geelong Advertiser, 8 February 1892). There are no children recorded from this marriage in Victoria from 1891 to 1920.

Lillie was the daughter of Humphrey Dunum Cranstoun (died 22 January 1915) and Sarah Firth, on 29 December 1891 (Vic BDM Ref 7890). The Argus of 3 September 1867 noted the marriage on 29 October that year of Humphrey Cranstoun to Sarah Firth, the daughter of E Firth from Mount Surprise Station, Albert Downs, Queensland. Humphrey was noted in the newspapers in the mid 1870s selling insurance. Agnes had at least two siblings: Robert Forsith Cranstoun (1883 (Vic BDM Ref 16857) - ) and Sarah Maud Victoria Cranstoun (1888 (Vic BDM Ref 29788) - )

Robert worked in his father's timber company until 1897 when his name was removed from the partnership. See this page for information.

1894 - Death of Charles Andrew Robertson

John and Isabella's son, Charles Andrew Robertson (born 1870), a school teacher, died on 27 January 1894. His death notice in the Geelong Advertister on Monday 29 January 1894 states that he died at St Kilda on the 27th and that his funeral would leave from the home of his parents, John and Isabella, 30 Little Ryrie Street, for the Eastern Cemetery. There is no indication of a wife or the cause of death.

1897 - John's son join the business

On 23 January 1897, a previous 'partnership' between John and three of his sons, William Croll Robertson, Robert Robertson, and George Archibald Robertson, was dissolved. Robert left the firm; the new company consisted of John, William and George.

John and Isabella's 50th wedding anniversary - 1902

John and Isabella Robertson on their 50th anniversary in 1902

The following photos were taken on the 50th anniversary of John Roberton and Isabella in 1902.

Jean Robertson (26 May 1855, Geelong (Vic BDM Ref 4522) - 4 Feb 1955 (Vic BDM Ref 1797)))

Jean Robertson.

Jean Robertson did not marry.

Colin Robertson (1856 - 1949) and Margaret/Maggie Grey Dixon

Colin and Margaret Robertson with baby Colin James Dixon Robertson

Click this link for further information about the life of the Colin and Margaret and their children, pictured below.

Margaret Colina Robertson

Isobel Robertson

Jenny/Jeannie Grey Robertson

Noel and Billy Robertson

William Croll Robertson and Susanah Templeton

William and Susie Robertson

William worked in the family business until it closed (see link for more information); his probate refers to him being 'retired timber merchant' in 1932. See below for further information.

Christina Robertson and Hay Duncan

Christina Robertson and Hay Duncan. It is not known where their children Isabella and John were when this photo was taken.

Herbert Robertson Duncan

Christina and Hay Duncan had three children:

Hay and Christina Duncan and their children attended the Presbyterian Church in Lennox Street, Richmond, where they were noted in July 1914. (Source: Richmond Australian, 18 July 1914)

Herbert Robertson Duncan married Nita Pratt (daughter of Mr and Mrs T Pratt of Guildford and Greenwich Point) on 29 November 1924 at St Jude's Randwick (Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1925). They lived in Girrahween, 78 Berwick Street, Guildford, and had at least one child, Ian Harley Duncan (20 March 1926 (Sydney Morning Herald 10 April 1926).

John Gordon Hay Duncan died 'suddenly' on 7 March 1950. The probate notice in The Argus of 23 March 1950 noted that John was 'formerly of 62 Wattle Road, Hawthorn but late of 5 Auburn Road, Hawthorn', and a technical school instructor. His wife Agnes was named the sole executrix appointed by John's will (dated 19 March 1935).

Robert Robertson and Agnes Francis Lilian/Lillie Cranstoun

Robert and Lillie Robertson

Lillie's sister Ethel Elizabeth Firth Cranstoun [whose birth record does not seem to appear in the Victorian BDM records) married Herbert Alexander Purnell on 12 December 1906. (Source: Geelong Advertiser 12 January 1907)

Robert Robertson may be the person of that name who spoke at the Shenton Methodist Church on 7 August 1907, as recorded in the Geelong Advertiser of 8 August 1907. Robert had 'just returned from a successful work in New South Wales'.

George Archibald Robertson (7 May 1868 - 7 Nov 1936) and Jessie Mary Ethel Neilson

George and Jessie Ethel Robertson

George worked in his father's company, and then appears to have had a leading role in the company before it closed in the early 1930's. Click this link for further information about the life of George Archibald Robertson, including his marriage and children.

1904 - Death of John Robertson - Geelong

John Robertson died on 21 September 1904 in Geelong, two years after his 50th wedding anniversary.

1913 - Death of Isabella Burns Robertson

Isabella Burns Robertson (nee Croll) died on 14 May 1913 at her residence at Little Ryrie Street, Geelong. (Source: The Age, 17 May 1913).

From 1915 - Deaths of Robertson siblings and spouses

Christina Duncan (nee Robertson)'s husband, Hay Duncan died in 1915. His death notice was carried in the Geelong Advertiser on 18 August 1915 and simply stated 'On the 15th inst. at his residence, No 1 Hawthorn Avenue, Caulfield, Hay, beloved husband of Christina Duncan, formerly of Geelong.'

William Croll Robertson (born 1859) died on 7 January 1932.

William Croll Robertson died in 1932; Susannah died before 1939, as noted in the notice below.

Susannah Robertson (nee Templeton) died before 1939.

On 13 September 1939, the Argus (Melbourne) ran a notice stating the following:

RE William Croll Robertson, deceased. Pursuant to the provisions of the Trustee Act 1928, notice is hereby given that Donald Ferguson Neilson [who was also related by marriage - Jessie Neilson was married to William's brother George]] ... accountant, the surviving executor of the will of William Croll Robertson, late of Fenwick Street, Geelong aforesead, retired timber merchant, deceased, who died on the seventh day of December 1932, and probate of whose will was granted to the said Donald Ferguson Neilson and Susannah Robertson of Fenwick Stret, Geelong, aforesaid, widow (now deceased), by the Supreme Court of Victoria in its probate jurisdiction, on the third day of March 1933, intends to convey or distribute the estate of the said William Croll Robertson, deceased, among the persons entitled thereto, and requires all persons and creditors to send particulars in writing of their claims against the said estate ...'

Robert Robertson's wife Agnes Frances Lillie Cranstoun died 4 October 1936. Her death was recorded in the Argus of 5 October 1936, the daughter of Humphrey and Sarah Cranstoun. Her BDM record, however, shows the parents as Humphrey Lowden and Eliza Black. This appears to be a transcription error.

George Archibald Robertson (born 1868) died on 7 November 1936. His wife Jessie Mary Ethel Neilson died on 28 August 1939.

Robert Robertson (born 1866), Lillie's husband, died on 28 April 1941. At his death, Robert owned three properties: 11 Buckland Avenue, Newtown; Vacant land on Buckland Avenue, adjoining Lot 1; and 8 Austin Street, Newtown. Robert's nephews, Colin James Dixon Robertson and Lt Col John Charles Robertson (then in Malaya, killed in action on 18 January 1942) were the joint Executors of his estate. His will stated that his property was to be distributed to his wife (if she was still alive), otherwise (a) to his three sisters and his wife's two sisters who were still alive and (b) the balance made up of two-thirds to his and Lillie's nephews and the other one third to his and Lillie's nieces. The listing of his assets notes that his nephew Ronald Cranstoun owed him a small amount of money; he would receive the balance based on the outstanding loan amount. The codicil to Robert's will dated 13 July 1936 bequeathed: to Miss Alice Stevens 'housekeeper, in consideration of the care and attention in the latter years of my life, the sum of five shillings for each week of the last year of her service, providing she is in my employ at the time of my death'; and to Mrs Maud Moore, various pieces of furniture.

Jessie Croll Robertson (born 1875) died on 3 September 1946.

Colin Robertson's wife, Margaret/Maggie Grey Dixon Robertson died on 8 August 1949. Colin Robertson (born 1856) died a week later, on 15 August 1949.

Jean Robertson (born 1855) died on 4 February 1955.

Christina Robertson (born 1860/1861) died on 13 January 1957.

Page created 11 December 2011, late updated 25 July 2020 (updates mostly relating to the Croll family). Copyright Andrew Warland. email: andrewwarland(at)